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Top General Calls Afghan Situation Serious


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

First this hour, a major assessment of the war in Afghanistan. The review arrived today from the general running that war, Stanley McChrystal. It acknowledges that the effort is not going well and it will fall to the White House and to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to decide what to do next. Gates spoke to reporters earlier today before he read the McChrystal report.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): While there's a lot of gloom and doom going around, I think that General McChrystal's assessment will be a realistic one and set forth the challenges we have in front of us. At the same time I think we have some assets in place and some developments that hold promise.

BLOCK: One big question not answered by the report is whether more assets, meaning more troops, will be requested. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following the story. He joins us now. And Tom, we should clarify the report has not been publically released. General McChrystal did release a brief statement along with it. And he said the situation in Afghanistan is, in his words, serious, but also that, he says, success is achievable. What does he mean by that?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, I think what the general means is success is achievable, but they have a lot of work to do. And I've been talking to a number of sources about what's in the report. And one thing he wants to do is make sure that the troops there - American, Afghan and international troops - focus on protecting the population rather than running around into the more remote valleys and hills chasing Taliban fighters.

Now, he also wants a bigger and better Afghan army and police force, one source told me. The Afghan army is going to grow to about 134,000 by 2011. There's an expectation McChrystal will go tens of thousands of troops beyond that.

BLOCK: And these are things we've been hearing about for some time, Tom. Is there something in the report that indicates a different strategy than what they've been pursuing recently in Afghanistan.

BOWMAN: Well, one of the things he wants to do along the lines of the Afghan troops is build a much stronger partnership between the U.S. and Afghan forces, working alongside each other in missions, for example. And there are various ways you can do this. You can break down the U.S. units into smaller units and then have Afghan troops sort of integrated into those units - in missions.

And one of those sources I talked with said this is really a fundamental shift in how they're doing business over there. And I think it's important because, really, only local troops can end an insurgency since they obviously know the terrain and the people much better.

BLOCK: Tom, there has been an expectation that General McChrystal will be requesting more troops. That was not part of this assessment today.

BOWMAN: No, that was not. We expect within a week or more, he'll come back with a request for more troops. And we're told he'll do this as several options. It could be, lower option could be one brigade and a brigade is roughly 4,000 or 5,000 soldiers, up to three or more brigades. So he's going to leave it, I believe, to a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and have a discussion about how far they want to go on this.

And the sense I do get is you probably won't see additional troops being sent this year. Most people I talk with say it'll be sometime into next year when you'll see those additional brigades.

BLOCK: So, Tom, if that request were made and approved, that would bring the total U.S. presence in Afghanistan to how many troops?

BOWMAN: Well, right now there are about 64,000 American troops there. It'll go up to about 68,000, probably by October. But the request for additional troops, which, again, we believe McChrystal will request more troops, could be anywhere from an additional 5,000, maybe to an additional 20, 30,000 or more. But, again, obviously there's been no approval for this yet.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, thank you very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.

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